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NIT Semifinals

Terps' Run Comes to an End

South Carolina Pulls Away, Will Play St. Joseph's for Title: South Carolina 75, Maryland 67

By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page D08

NEW YORK, March 29 -- The looks on the faces of the Maryland men's basketball players said it all as the final seconds ticked off the clock in their season-ending 75-67 loss to South Carolina in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night.

Senior forward Mike Grinnon stared at the Madison Square Garden court knowing a career that began with the exuberance of winning a national title ended with little fanfare in a tournament that very few people care about.

Brandon Wallace is sandwiched by Maryland's Nik Caner-Medley, left, and Travis Garrison, but South Carolina's inside game proved to be superior. (Ed Betz -- AP)

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Junior guard Chris McCray just shook his head, realizing the Terrapins' bid to salvage an otherwise disappointing season by winning the school's first NIT title in 23 years wasn't going to happen. Sophomore forward Ekene Ibekwe glared as South Carolina's players clapped and raised their arms in victory.

"It was real tough to see it end like this and I'll think about this game for the rest of my life," Grinnon said. "It comes down to the lack of effort we had this year."

It wasn't surprising Maryland's season ended when it did. The Terrapins (19-13) hadn't won more than three consecutive games since mid-December. So after winning their first three NIT games -- all against lesser foes and all in the friendly confines of Comcast Center -- the Terrapins did what they normally did against good teams away from home: they lost.

But this wasn't North Carolina State or Wake Forest or Virginia Tech. This was South Carolina, which at the end of the regular season was never really considered for a bid to the NCAA tournament, something the Terrapins fell just shy of earning for a 12th consecutive year.

With former standout center Len Elmore -- a key member of the Terrapins' NIT champion team in 1972 -- sitting in the front row behind the baseline, the Terrapins' front court wilted.

The Gamecocks had three players finish in double figures -- led by forward Carlos Powell's 17 points -- as South Carolina (19-13) advanced to its second NIT final in three seasons. South Carolina will face St. Joseph's (24-11), which posted a 70-58 victory over Memphis (22-16) in the earlier semifinal, in Thursday's championship game.

Maryland was led by sophomore guard Mike Jones, junior forward Travis Garrison and McCray, who scored 15 points each. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who entered averaging 16.1 points per game, had 13 points.

South Carolina junior guard Josh Gonner had 12 points and junior forward Rocky Trice added 10.

South Carolina seized control midway through the first half. With the game tied at 16, the Gamecocks went on a 9-2 run to take a 25-18 lead after a dunk by Renaldo Balkman, prompting Maryland to call a timeout with 6 minutes 52 seconds left in the half.

Maryland, which had tried -- often unsuccessfully -- to score from the perimeter, focused on establishing an inside game. The Terrapins did not attempt an outside jump shot for the next seven minutes, as they pounded the ball inside, which resulted in layups or trips to the foul line. But as Maryland had little trouble scoring, neither did South Carolina.

The Gamecocks went right at the Terrapins, using a frontline that featured three players who are at least 6 feet 7 to outmuscle Maryland's defenders to extend their lead to 41-29 at intermission. South Carolina's Antoine Tisby, Powell and Balkman combined to score 19 points in the first half and wore down the Terrapins, as the Gamecocks scored on eight of their final 12 possessions of the half.

"It was pretty typical of the inconsistent type of play we've had all season," Coach Gary Williams said.

South Carolina carried its momentum into the second half. The Gamecocks opened with a 12-6 run to extend their lead to 53-35 with 17:08 left in the game. And though the Terrapins did make a push to get the deficit to single digits, they never pulled to within fewer than eight points.

"The difference between being a good team and a great team is playing for all 40 minutes and just not in spurts like we did," Garrison said. "It's frustrating to make it this far and then come out and play like we did. We couldn't match their intensity."

• SAINT JOSEPH'S 70, MEMPHIS 58: Pat Carroll scored 13 of his 24 points in the second half and the Hawks (24-11) won for the 21st time in 2005 to reach the NIT final.

Rodney Carney scored 21 points, 17 in the second half, for Memphis (22-16).

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